This weekend Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post gives his take on the conflicting historical narratives used by both the West and Russia to push their interests. In the past, RA has blogged about Russia’s victim narrative.
Much of the grief in transatlantic relations of the past decade has stemmed from the conflicting narratives that the United States and Europe wove about the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a new Russia. Triumphal Americans — the Bush administration has been overstocked with them — celebrated Ronald Reagan’s defense spending and confrontational strategy as the keys to Western “victory.” European leaders, led by Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and France’s Jacques Chirac, gave all the credit to the Helsinki peace process and other diplomatic maneuvers that allegedly enshrined reason as the arbiter of Russian and international politics. Both narratives obscured the reality of the internal collapse of an overextended empire — and left Russian reformers and gangsters to battle each other for control of a wildly lurching ship of state. In the confusion, the personalization of power replaced consistent policy prescriptions for the Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 administrations. “As long as they got along” with Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Putin, Western leaders “saw no reason to worry,” Delpech writes. “We can now observe the results of that policy. Western influence on Russia is nonexistent.” Putin offers his own narrative to muddy the waters even more. It is a narrative of his regime rescuing the country from a chaos that was deliberately injected, like a virus, into Mother Russia by the West. His regime has turned its oil and gas reserves and its role as a monopoly energy supplier for much of Europe into real power that makes Russia invulnerable and gives it commanding status over a weakening West. It is in the name of Russia that his regime treats with open contempt Britain’s extradition demands or Germany’s attempts to negotiate a “strategic framework.”